Reading Around the Fire

Like many other kids, teens and young adults, the arrival of summer for me meant camp was just around the corner. My packing list for the resident camp I attended and then worked for probably does not look too unusual:

Bug Spray (mosquitoes, mosquitoes, mosquitoes)

Sunscreen (if only it ever got taken out of the bag)

Sleeping bag (mattress help or campouts)

Cheap flip flops (showers, need I say more)

Boots (great protection from horse hooves not so much from tree roots)

Hooded sweatshirts (for when the sun goes down)

Jeans (not fit for school anymore but fine for messy camp fun)

Flashlight (for reading under the covers and snipe hunts)

Books crammed in every leftover space ( if only more fit!)

As a camper, I had books to read for rest hour and flashlight time. These ranged from big fantasy bricks by Robert Jordan to The Horse Whisperer. I’d be the girl awake before the barn director and squinting through the blinding early morning light to get extra reading time.

When I became a camp counselor, my packed reads changed. That doesn’t mean I gave up the fantasy or the horse books. There was a stash of horse magazines somewhere in my bags and drawers along with Pony Club Manuals and horse encyclopedias. I was helping teach horse care and riding so I needed the research and the girls would pour over them at times.
Parts of my children’s and YA lit collection started making the trip out to camp with me as well after weekends. If kids didn’t have a book to read, they could borrow one from the top of my bunk. Joanna Campbell’s Thoroughbred series could normally be found there. I hauled an entire box of fantasy novels out to camp for one of the RITs (riding instructor in training). That is still one of my favorite instances of handing off books ever.
Books came with me not just for independent reading but for read alouds. When flashlight time started it was a great time to share with a cabin. Many nights counselors would sing to their kids. Often times I would read or tell stories. It was at camp that I learned that it can be a good thing to read a book all the way through before reading it to your cabin (my whole cabin was taken aback by the ending of Just Ella). The RIT mentioned earlier read to my cabin when I couldn’t. That cabin worked through Things Not Seen by Andrew Clements.
I will admit I used my cabins as a testing ground for stories of an unpublished nature. I read to them from pieces of my first novel draft, which was created from different college projects. Reading a story where horses played an important role to a bunch of girls at horse camp helped give me a forgiving audience. They asked for a reprise on year on New Year’s Eve and they listened to me read past midnight. I read other stories too over the years (Reading aloud is such a good way to figure out you have story problems. This includes learning why you shouldn’t name brothers Sedgewick and Cedric).
Sometimes it felt like camp was a roving book club. The best moments for this took place under the willow tree or just outside the dining hall. A group of campers and staff would sit there during trading post time and chat. We’d share books we enjoyed (or ones we loathed) and discuss characters. Some kids would leave me book suggestions to read when they left.
One summer in particular stands out in my memory as The Summer of the Book. Two books swept through camp that summer. One was Laura Hellenbrand’s Seabiscuit, which is a phenomenally well researched book that remains one of my all time favorite nonfiction reads. The other was the The Order of the Phoenix. Suddenly most of the cabin ‘code of living’ posters had a new stipulation – NO SPOILING OF HARRY POTTER. Many of our campers wouldn’t get the books until after their camp stay. Some had the books mailed to camp so they would get them. People were lending the book and were in all different places. We had excited conversations about the book in which no one finished a complete sentence so we wouldn’t make other readers mad. We still managed to complete understand each other even if the dialogue was something like “Did you get to? Can you believe?” I plowed through 300 pages when I was on duty one night waiting until enough staff were back in the cabins for me to go to bed. My campers laughed as I would laugh or hit my bed during rest hour as I worked through the book.
While my days at camp are done, books were a great part of my experience there. I find I am still sending books that direction as my cousin now attends as a camper. I hope she finds them to be a great part of her experience too.
Sarah Wendorf is an elementary school librarian and technology enrichment aide in Wisconsin. Her first book love is fantasy. She is @pageintraining on Twitter and writes at pageintraining.wordpress.com.